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13 November 2015 @ 02:17 pm
The Ice Demon and the Spider 4/?  

On the quinjet, heading at Mach 2 to Arendelle, Natasha listened to Ward's report in her earpiece again. It was clear that he hadn't seen his assailant's face, so she could discount his claim of any sort of fight. He'd been surprised and subdued immediately, and given Ward's training, that was difficult. Not impossible, and not in a situation where he would not have been expecting any attack, but to be restrained sufficiently that Ward had not seen his face at all, meant their opponent was also trained. He also reported that his assailant was at least his height, and likely taller, which was at least a clue to his identity, even if there was little more to go on.

"Arendelle is under my protection," the assailant had said, in English.

She frowned. Arendelle special forces? But why attack a SHIELD agent?

Not that everyone, including allies, were all that happy with SHIELD, she had to admit. Some were especially unhappy to find SHIELD on their sovereign soil, throwing their authority around. The local police had already refused their assistance in investigating the meteorological phenomenon, so perhaps this assailant one of them.

But bad enough there was some local trained well enough to take down a Level 7 agent without difficulty, but the assailant had also taken Ward's weapons, phone, and wallet. The phone and wallet suggested an amateur thief, but then the phone had misled them to the wrong target, upsetting a woman at her family's table, much to Sitwell's frustration.

Not so amateurish then, a deliberate tactic.

The wallet was more of a puzzle. The credit cards had not been used yet, and Natasha suspected the assailant had been after the SHIELD identification. It wouldn't be difficult to alter the photo well enough to fool most.

"This is your only warning."

That was something people said who feared it would be ignored, as this one surely did. So what would he do to retaliate when SHIELD did not leave? Was he prepared to use those weapons he had taken from Ward? Would he injure the next as another warning? Or would he kill?

Fury had told her, sounding annoyed in the wake of the Stark mission, that Coulson was taking Clint to New Mexico to investigate matching meteorological phenomena to what had appeared in Arendelle. All they had found in Arendelle was a scorch mark in the dirt as if struck by lightning, and yet...

She slid out the photo of the file. There was nothing random about that design in the dirt, especially not when it matched another formed on the other side of the world the same day.


She was high enough in SHIELD to know there was life out there, but really, who expected aliens in their own lifetime?

But that wasn't all Fury had told her.

"Agent Romanoff," he'd said it, tucking his hands behind his back which always meant Fury was keeping something from her. "It seems that scorch mark brought us an artifact in New Mexico. This." He handed her another photo, of what looked like a large metal hammer resting on a column of dirt. "Despite appearances, this hammer cannot be moved. Regardless of force used against it."

She narrowed her eyes at the marking on the hammer. They looked like runes. Norse runes. Arendelle spoke a version of Norse.

Fury saw she'd noticed and he nodded. "I don't believe in coincidence, Agent Romanoff. This thing, these scorch marks, and this person warning off my agents from investigation, are not a coincidence. So your mission, agent Romanoff, is to identify him and get within his circle of trust. The other field agents will help you run this op, and once you're in position, I want you to stay with him and evaluate his threat. Identify, contain--"

"Subdue?" she asked.

"Only if necessary. I'd rather you not. If he's misinterpreting our mission there, or confused, we may be able to make him an ally."

"What aren't you telling me?" she'd asked, not expecting the full answer.

He'd tucked his hands behind his back and gazed out the window at the sky. "Fairy tales, Agent Romanoff. Things I was told and I never believed, but now... I don't know. Maybe they're true, but maybe they're not." He'd shaken his head in disbelief.

"More things in heaven and Earth, sir?" she'd asked dryly, and he'd almost smiled in agreement.

So now here she was, on a mission to approach and contain the target, but not subdue. That meant Fury had more than a vague suspicion that he was right in the target's motives, and doing more than containment might provoke a stronger hostility.

And if this... being … was connected to those marks, stronger hostility was not what they wanted to provoke.

Fury had let the agents continue to investigate the anomaly and perhaps draw out the assailant, which meant she had to get there and involved before the situation deteriorated.

At a military airstrip to the south of the city, the quinjet landed and Sitwell was there to meet her.

"Any new sightings?" she asked.

"One, though it wasn't useful. One of the cards was used to try to book an airplane tickets this morning, first class, from Oslo to Zurich. The card was rejected, but I sent a team just in case." She shook her head, that was obvious distraction bait. Sitwell agreed, nodding, "Ward and Jones have stayed in the city center as a lure, but our mysterious friend hasn't bit."

"He'll make his move on his time, not ours," she said, accepting the folder Sitwell gave her. "New orders from Commander Fury. Once the target is identified, you and your men drive him my way for evaluation. Commander Fury wants him alive."

Sitwell made a bit of a doubtful face. "The only way we're going to i.d. him is if he hits first. I don't know that everyone's going to have that same restraint if he kills someone."

"Then make sure he doesn't kill anyone," she told him and handed him her SHIELD badge. "Hang onto that. I don't want it on me. Is the rental ready?"

He nodded. "Ready."

"Good. Now we don't know each other. I'm Natalya Romanova, agent of Russian intelligence here to investigate whatever you Americans find so interesting." She let her accent lace her words again, relaxing back into the role. Black Widow was her codename, but it was also her in a certain fundamental sense, and the Black Widow was Russian. Always.

* * *

Arendelle was a bit quaint and modern at the same time, she saw as she drove the rental car to her small hotel in the city center. The buildings were mostly modern, some new within the last few years as the city expanded with the arrival of significant oil money, but still retained its character of low buildings on narrow streets in the middle of town of the old city near the water, and because it was built against some hills, there were stairs between the buildings to join the elevations together on foot, even if cars and bikes had to take the longer circuitous route of switchbacks up and down.

Someone on foot who knew his way around in that rabbit warren was going to have a distinct advantage over his opponents. SHIELD's advantage was persistent daylight, since it was late spring and the days were long so far north, though that was only going to help once they identified him.

She kept an eye out for tall men as she drove, and realized that was going to be difficult in a nation that seemed to average at least two meters tall.

At her hotel, she checked in under her Russian passport, lied that she was driving up to the Finnish border and back to Russia the long way, and then went off to find something to eat.

She saw Ward sitting on a bench in the park near the wharf, being entirely too obvious. She wanted to roll her eyes but walked past without acknowledgment. Their target wasn't going to hit one he'd hit before. He'd guess there was a trap. She didn't have to turn to know that Jones was on the roof of the building with a sniper scope watching over Ward.

Sometimes SHIELD was so set in their ways.

She ordered tea and the first thing in the entree list on the short menu in the sidewalk cafe, and set up her own surveillance. It had been nearly twenty-four hours since he'd delivered his threat, and it was dinner time in Arendelle. Was he out there ready to hit one of the SHIELD agents, or had it been an empty threat and Fury was wrong?

She waited, ate, pretended to read a magazine, and wondered where he was.

Loki had spent most of the day at social welfare, declaring his intent for asylum in Arendelle and being shoved around various officials, who were rather shockingly disinterested about why he wanted to become a citizen of Arendelle. The only thing they wanted to know was whether he was a criminal fleeing prosecution, but when his fingerprints and photo did not turn up in their databases, they assumed he was not a fugitive or otherwise undesirable. His application was processed even though not a single word of it was true.

He didn't intend to return to Sophie's shop, but lacking anyone else he knew, he went there to share his good news. She recognized him, which was warming, and he held out his official letter of approval to her to look at. "I wanted to thank you," he said, "for not letting me fear the police and get this started. So I'm going to be a citizen and start looking for work and a real place to live, and I owe it to you, Sophie."

She grinned. "That is wonderful, Luke, I am so pleased for you! You must come to dinner tonight, and we will celebrate!"

"I-- that would be an imposition," he demurred, uncomfortable with the idea. It sounded like being friends and he didn't want to go there.

But she insisted and he didn't like the idea of being alone to eat again – eating all the time was already tedious – so he gave in and promised to be back when she closed the shop.

He saw the agent on the bench in the square and declined the bait. It irritated him that they didn't believe him, but then again, why should they? He hadn't proven he was to be taken seriously.

There had to be an observer. Roof top or window? Knowing he'd get only one pass without drawing attention, he walked along the bay, far back from the agent to check lines of sight as surreptitiously as he could.

This would be so much easier with seidr – he could cloak himself invisible, or illusion to look like someone else.

Glint of sun on something on a rooftop. Oh you child.

He kept walking, intending to circle around, but he accidentally ended up before the church. His step faltered and he looked at the facade. It had been restored to something near what it had been before Schmidt's beast had crushed the front wall to rubble.

His heart felt tight at he approached the front, casting his eyes upward to the bell tower. It had been smaller in Elsa's day, but the steps were the same and the double doors looked the same.

He tried it and the door opened to a slight tug, so he went inside. He stared at the carving of Yggdrasil on the wooden paneling beneath the choir, unaware of anything else.

It's still here. How is it still here?

He moved closer, brushing his hand against the smoothed scales of Jormungandr beneath, inexorably toward the head. His finger hovered over the eye latch, since he was curious about what, if anything, might be stored within, but his hand refused to move that little bit closer to touch it. He took a convulsive step back, remembering the trap that had been laid for him and the pain that had followed.

He rubbed a thumb over his wrist, trying to calm a suddenly racing heart.

"Is there something I can help you with, my son?" a voice asked from the aisle. "You seem troubled and there can be solace in the house of God."

Loki laughed once, both at the irony of 'my son' and at the idea that the priest could help. "I think it is your God who took my solace from me."

"So you turn to other gods in His place?" the priest asked, moving up beside him.

"No," Loki's gaze sought the top of the tree where Asgard was marked and added more softly, "Seeking comfort of them is the course of a fool."

"Perhaps then in the love of others?" the priest asked. "Sit down with me, and tell me of your loss. A sympathetic ear of the living may offer what prayer does not."

For a moment, he was tempted to tell this stranger the truth, to unburden his heart and let go of the weight of these secrets. It seemed a welcome idea to unpack the dense layers built within, but... not to this priest who would never understand. He would never believe Loki's tale anyway.

Loki shook his head. "You offer kindly but this is my burden. I do not deserve solace when my failures were what brought suffering to others."

The priest's eyebrows lifted as he considered Loki's words. "Guilt is a dangerous enemy that can drown good people in blame and doubt for things they couldn't control. Assume only that fault which is yours. Men are not God, to shoulder the burden of everything that happens."

Wanting to laugh at that – and if I am a god, what then, priest? – Loki merely shook his head. "Yet if the fault was mine? That a good man now lies at the bottom of the sea because I didn't save him?"

The priest considered for a moment, "Then I would say that the sea has always been a treacherous place. We who live here know that best of all, do we not? That we make our prayers," he nodded to the altar down the way and to the image of Yggdrasil, "but we know the sea takes, and sometimes it gives back, but always as it wills."

As the sea had taken Steven from him, but only because Loki had let him crash in the first place. He shut his eyes, and turned, saying in a voice that could scarcely get out of his throat, "I should go."

"God be with you, and please come back," the priest invited. "To speak to me, or if you like, we have resources to help with grief or trauma. You need not go through whatever troubles you, alone."

Loki nodded once in thanks and understanding and left as quickly as he could, not able to draw in a deep breath until he was halfway down the street.

Pushing his hair off his face, before remembering he had to leave it down, he managed to breathe and focus his thoughts. He didn't expect the reminder of the past to hit so abruptly, and he needed to push it away and get back to what he was doing.

He had promises to Elsa and to Birgitte to protect this Realm from these invaders.

First he checked the road behind, to make sure the spotter did not have a spotter of his own. He did not see anyone. He would have to be cautious and work stealthily from the side and rear.

The houses in that row were mostly attached and it was easy enough to pull himself up on someone's garage and from there, up to the roofline. Then walking with confidence and not sneaking, but also staying out of the direct line of sight where his targets were, he made his way across the roof.

Closer, he slowed, peeking over the edge to observe the younger man lying down with his rifle and scope, pointed toward the square and his companion. Slipping closer behind the chimney, Loki slithered over the peak of the roof and then hurled himself on top of the watcher.

Taken by surprise, the man grunted with shock and was delayed in his attempt to fight back, and had little leverage. He did manage to knock over the tripod of his weapon and shortly there was a signal. "Jones! Jones, status!"

Damn it, he had no time.

Loki put his hand around the man's neck, forcing his face into the roofing tiles, and found the communication device, speaking into it, "I warned you. Take your people and leave Arendelle."

"If you kill him we'll hunt you down!" the other man threatened.

"I am the hunter, Agent Ward. You are the prey." He slammed Agent Jones' head into the roof, so he went limp. Knowing others might be converging, he found Jones' utility knife, wallet, removed the rifle clip and the scope and left the rest, racing away down the roof line. He jumped from one row to the next, down to the ground into someone's garden, and then up to the next avenue where he slowed his pace and tucked his findings into his pockets to walk nonchalantly on the sidewalk.

These idiots were doing nothing but arming him, he wondered when they'd realize that.

But it was time for dinner. Too bad he'd left behind the rifle, he could have given that to Sophie as a hostess gift.

(part five)